8 Characteristics Travel Companies Look for When Hiring Travel Bloggers

Editor's Note: This blog by Andre Van Kets of Discover Africa Group was first showcased as a presentation at the 2013 Getaway Travel Blog Conference

Travel bloggers dream of getting paid to do the two things they love most: travel and write.

But not everyone consumed by wanderlust, with a DSLR camera and a knack for WordPress, is going to get a thumbs-up from travel companies for all-expenses-paid trips to go jungle-trekking in Thailand, hot air ballooning over the Serengeti or Pina Colada sipping on the beach in Mauritius.

Mzansigirl is a South African travel blogger who travelled to Mauritius on a bloggers’ tripas part of the #MyMauritius iAmbassador campaign.

So, what exactly do travel companies look for when selecting travel bloggers to work with?

Are they after Pulitzer Prize winning writers? Phenomenal photographers? Blogging superstars with huge social followings?

While every company (or industry) may have their own opinion on which characteristics to look for when hiring bloggers or how to hire bloggers, recent research conducted with twenty-six travel companies in the South African Tourism industry has revealed eight key characteristics that travel bloggers must have if they want to travel on someone else’s dime.

Here they are:

#1 Bloggers must meet deadlines

Travel companies are businesses. No matter how beautiful your prose is, if you can’t deliver the goods on time, travel companies are not going to work with you.  Joy-Anne Bromilow, online editor for the Portfolio Collection of guesthouses in South Africa, says her pet hate when working with bloggers is “when someone is enthusiastic in theory, but then needs to be chased for submissions - that sucks!”

#2 Bloggers must understand the travel brand’s objectives

Different companies have different goals. Some may want long-form travel features with compelling narratives and world-class imagery. Others may be working with bloggers to build links and boost their SEO efforts. Whatever it may be, it’s vital that bloggers find out what travel companies are actually after, before they accept an assignment.

#3 Bloggers must respond well to critique

Stanley Cornelius of Focus Online, a digital agency specialising in the tourism industry, avoids writers that are “precious about their content and don't respond well to changes.” Bloggers must put their feelings aside (not their integrity -- mind you) and be ready to accept constructive feedback from the folks who are ultimately paying their bills.

#4 Bloggers must be punctual with emails and correspondence

Travel companies often feel like they’re taking a huge risk by sending complete strangers on extravagant trips. Bloggers can appease this sense of concern by engaging in an uber-professional manner. “Good attitude is everything.” says Tara Turkington, CEO at Flow Communications, a Johannesburg digital marketing agency that runs marketing campaigns for South Africa’s official tourism authority. Turkington always expects “quick, efficient delivery” when working with bloggers.

#5 Bloggers must have excellent grammar and spelling

Travel companies are unlikely to have sub-editors and proofreaders ready to review bloggers’ work. Blogger submissions must be squeaky clean. The brand’s name - and the blogger’s - is attached to anything that gets published, so even the tiniest typo can reflect poorly on both parties.

#6 Bloggers must have a unique voice

Travel companies and tourism organisations seek unique and authentic content. Authors that have found their voice are more likely to deliver this. When asked to comment, Kaanita Coleman, the eMarketing Manager at Cape Town Tourism said that they are always looking for a “mix of domestic and international bloggers” who can approach and provide story angles beyond the obvious beauty of Cape Town. Their focus is on “storytelling and personal accounts on how they experience the hidden and unique gems that Cape Town has to offer”.

#7 Bloggers must have first-hand experience of the destinations they write about

When it comes to any kind of writing -- but especially travel writing -- sending in copy-and-paste content from Wikipedia and elsewhere on the web, rather than personal experiences is “a recipe for disaster” according to Steve Conradie from Overlanding Africa. Readers can see straight through inauthentic content. It reflects badly on both the brand and the blogger.

#8 Bloggers must have a portfolio of their previous work

Lastly, having an up-to-date portfolio can make the world of difference when trying to hook a killer travel blogging gig. Many travel companies will judge prospective bloggers on their first impression. An online portfolio should be well designed, easy to use, quick access to examples of previous work and a list of previous clients.

Surprising insights

The primary outcome of the travel blogger research was a list of twenty characteristics scored and rated from most important to least important.

Graph: Travel writer / blogger characteristics ranked from most to least important

Surprisingly, a relevant writing degree or qualification is the fourth lowest characteristic required, as ranked by travel companies that hire writers.

Technical characteristics like SEO copywriting, basic HTML and Photoshop landed in the lower half of the list. The need for “a large social media following” was also poorly ranked.

In conclusion

Whether you’re a travel blogger, foodie blogger or mom blogger, if you’re hoping to get paid -- or receive some type of benefit -- from companies that you blog for, it’s time to be truly professional. You should always (1) meet deadlines, (2) understand a brand’s objectives before you start a project, (3) respond well to critique, and (4) be punctual with emails and correspondence.

When it comes to the actual writing, you should have (5) excellent grammar and spelling, (6) a unique voice, (7) first-­hand experience of the topics that you’re blogging about, and (8) have a portfolio of your previous work if you want to make money from blogging about the things you love.



Andre Van Kets is the co-founder of Discover Africa Group. He is passionate about travel, technology, online marketing and Cape Town. When not in the office, Andre enjoys surfing, trail running and swimming at the Sea Point pool.
Connect with Andre on Twitter (@andrevankets) or Google+.

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